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Leon's Blog

Review: The Lon Humphrey Sterling may be the traditional knife for modern uses

The Lon Humphrey Sterling combines old-time bladesmithing and styling with modern materials.
Review: The Lon Humphrey Sterling may be the traditional knife for modern uses

The best survival knife is one you enjoy carrying, because you’ll have it along when it’s needed. The new Sterling from Lon Humphrey Custom Knives is affordable, good looking and really useful, and may be what you’re looking for.

by Leon Pantenburg

I bought this knife, and was not paid to do this review. KnivesShipFree is a sponsor of SurvivalCommonSense.com, and had no input in this review. Lon Humphrey Knives doesn’t advertise on this site.

It’s bad enough that I struggle with a history addiction, but that’s combined with a deep-seated fascination for cutlery. Both of these are integrated into my hunting, fishing and backpacking hobbies, and an obsession for quality, durability and function in all my outdoor equipment.


The Lon Humphrey Sterling comes with several handle options. This is the curly maple version.

Given all this, just  show me a pretty blade, and I start teetering on the verge of buying yet another knife I don’t need.

These factors came together with a resounding “GOTCHA” when I saw the new Lon Humphrey Sterling. Commissioned as a special by KnivesShipFree, I ordered one as soon as it came on the market.

Here are the specifications:

      • Overall Length: 8 7/8″ (225mm)
      • Blade Length: 4 ” (101mm)
      • Thickness: .21″ (5.35mm)
      • Handle Thickness: .584″ (14.87mm)
      • Weight: 5.8oz
      • Comes with a sturdy leather sheath.

The Sterling went immediately into my daypack and rode along on a couple of short hikes and outings in the Cascades.

Here’s what I liked:

Size: The four-inch blade is about perfect for 90 percent of what you’ll need a knife for outdoors. It’s big enough to do just about everything, but not so big as to be awkward to use. At 8-7/8-inches long, it is compact and easy to carry. It’s lightweight for a knife of its size.

Handle design: Thank you, Lon Humphrey for making a knife with a reasonably-sized handle! Many knives have handles less than four-inches long, and those just don’t work for those of us with large hands. The Sterling handle design is just right for my glove-size large hands. Ergonomically, it is just about perfect for me, and is very comfortable for long whittling or carving sessions.

Lon Humphrey knife with flintlock

The Sterling matches my flintlock as if the two were cut from the same stock blank.

Curly maple handle: This handle is affordable, traditional and really good looking. It also was the deciding factor on getting the knife. When combined with my .40 caliber flintlock rifle and pipe tomahawk, everything looks like a museum display.

Steel: Humphrey starts out with 1095 high carbon steel, and tempers it to about 59-60 rc hardness. It hold an edge like crazy, and will be easy to re-sharpen when the edge eventually needs it.

Spine: The side opposite the edge is ground at a 90-degree angle, like an ice skate. I use this side a lot for processing tinder and scraping pitchwood for firestarting. You can also use the spine to scrape a ferrocerrium to make sparks for firemaking.

Point: The point helps determine what the knife can be used for. The drop point on the Sterling is a good all-around choice.

Forge marks: All Humphrey knives are hand forged, and some of them have the hammer marks. This is how knives on the frontier, or those carried by the mountain men looked. The forge marks, combined with the curly maple handle, are what make my  Sterling so cool-looking with my flintlock rifle. They give a one-of-a-kind look.

Sheath: A traditional-looking knife should have a good leather sheath. The Sterling comes with a well-designed, sturdy one.

wet formed sheath 2

The Sterling comes with a well-designed sheath. Click here to learn how to wet form the leather for a better fit.

Made in the USA: Support American small business. All Humphrey knives are made here.

Price: Depending on what handle option you order, a Sterling will start out at $179.95. That’s a steal for a semi-custom, hand-forged blade.

Not so hot – maybe?

These are not deal breakers for me, but you may want to consider them.

Carbon steel may rust: I wipe off my carbon blades after using and coat them with mineral oil if they’re going to be stored. If you’re going to be using a knife in a hot, humid saltwater environment, where the knife will be wet alot, you may not want carbon steel.

Carbon steel may stain: I like the honest patina that builds up on a carbon steel blade. It gives character. Use your carbon steel blade enough and it will show some honest use. If you don’t like a patina, get a good stainless blade with CPM 3V steel.

Use as a firestarter steel: I’ve seen videos of people striking a spark with a piece of flint against a carbon steel blade as an emergency way of firestarting. I don’t think this is a valid survival skill. Before this can work,  you must have a material that will catch said spark. I have not successfully ever used a carbon steel blade to start a fire, even though I have tried hard, using several different kinds of carbon steel blades.

Don’t rely on this technique until you have successfully accomplished it many times in a controlled setting.

When it’s all said and done, buying a good knife is not hard if all you want is a reliable tool. You can go into any hardware store and buy a better knife than those the mountain men or frontiersmen used.

But that’s no fun, and is hardly satisfying to most of us history/cutlery enthusiasts. My primitive hunting gear is an art form, IMHO, and I really enjoy carrying and  using the same stuff the old-timers did. I also like setting it up in camp and looking at it, much as you would enjoy viewing a familiar painting or sculpture.

I like my Sterling so well, I ordered one for my brother Mike Pantenburg as a birthday present. He has a .50 caliber Lyman Great Plains rifle, and is also a history/cutlery enthusiast. He’s going to appreciate the hand-forged beauty.

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Leon's Blog

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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